Cheating and hypocrisy in football

Did he dive? Didn’t he dive? Did he exaggerate a tackle? Was it inside the box or not? Did he use his hands deliberately to control the ball? Do two wrongs make a right?

Football is rife with cheating. But the worst part is that almost everyone involved in the game is either deluded or a hypocrite.

To take just one recent example: the weekend before last Liverpool played Arsenal at Anfield. Luis Saurez, not exactly everyone’s favourite player at the moment, skipped through several Arsenal challenges in the penalty box and dramatically tripped over Czechny the Arsenal goalkeeper. The referee awarded a penalty. Replays showed barely any contact, yet Suarez went down theatrically as if shot in the back. Subsequent replays however showed that there was contact, and thereby by the letter of the law it was indeed a penalty. (Indeed, there doesn’t have to be contact for a penalty to be correctly given, but that’s off-topic). Incidentally, a friend of mine made the point that Suarez was looking for the dive and was on his way to ground anyway, before contact was made. The contact made it a penalty, but it was already a dive. It’s hard to disagree with this argument.

The Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger recently criticised Suarez, saying “It was no penalty. Nobody touched him”, despite contact having occurred. He added “then when they roll down the sock, take the shin pad out like he has been kicked like mad. It is a bit overboard. We don’t need that.” What Wenger means here is that exaggerating a tackle (or lack thereof) to con the referee into punishing an opponent more than they otherwise would (or deserve) is a form of cheating and is therefore wrong. I totally agree. However, this would be far less hypocritical coming from a manager whose teams historically haven’t had the constitution and integrity of wet paper bags. In the same game, every slight Liverpool touch was met with dramatic collapses from Arsenal players, lying on the ground in agony, taking ages to recover from the horrendous aggressive assault on their person…for about 10 seconds after which a miraculously recovery was made. (The only actual harm caused in that game was by an accidental collision between Henderson and Arteta, the latter needing to be stretchered off…because that’s what real physical harm causes.) Surely a dive is a dive, no matter where it happens on the pitch?

Now, I’m not criticising Arsenal here particularly, and I’m not defending Luis Suarez, what I’m saying is that pretending to fake reality to gain an advantage is cheating. Trying to circumvent the rules of the game to gain an advantage is cheating. To take another example which also happens to involve Arsenal (but only because they’re the most recent ones I’ve seen do it): last night’s game against Newcastle saw Arteta take several corners when the ball was quite clearly and deliberately not inside the quadrant. This is an invalid corner and an attempt (albeit a pathetic one) to gain some distance on the set piece. This is cheating! And if you say “there’s a bit of a difference between trying to sneak a foot on a corner and diving in the box to win a penalty” then I’m sorry but you’ve missed the point. Please, tell me which forms of cheating are acceptable or not? Or do we shrug and say “that’s life” or “everyone does it” when it happens in our favour? Who am I kidding – that’s exactly what happens in football! It’s funny how every football manager is a bastion of truth and integrity when his team have been hurt due to cheating, but it’s “I didn’t see it” when it goes in their favour. Worse, they’ll just side with the player despite the cheating, as if it’s just a matter of subjective opinion anyway.

Trying to sneak extra distance on a free kick? Trying to sneak closer than 10 yards to the taker before the whistle has gone? Pulling an attacker down to prefer the red card over a certain goal? Taking the corner outside the quadrant? Pretending to be injured or have been touched in a manner that didn’t happen (inside or outside the box)? Deliberate hand-ball? Kicking the ball away to waste time? Taking advantage of the clock and certain rules (i.e. the goal kick) to waste time? Why is any one of these more acceptable than another?

Again, I’m not defending anyone or singling anyone out for criticism here, because almost everyone involved in football is a hypocrite, prepared to look the other way or sneak any advantage when the ref isn’t looking, protecting their cheats one week whilst criticising the enemy’s the week after. Whatever we’d like to think about cheating or what should be done about it, it happens. Perhaps there are varying degrees, but it’s still cheating. If you really want to stamp it out, start with the only actions you can actually control: those of yourself and your own club. Otherwise, shut up and stop being a hypocrite.

Suarez v Evra / Racism in football / Free Speech

I’m going to give my opinion on the recent Suarez/Evra racial abuse incident, racism in general and where freedom of speech and the law should come into it.

What happened between Suarez and Evra?

I’m going to assume the reader is fairly familiar with the situation, but to summarise: Luis Suarez, a Liverpool player, allegedly racially insulted Manchester United’s Patrice Evra. I say ‘allegedly’, because I think we will never know for sure what was said between the two, but having read the evidence presented to the panel and their judgement, I will say that it is hard to defend Suarez. My opinion from the start in this has simply been that a man is innocent until proven guilty. The question for me wasn’t really if Suarez is a racist or not, but whether it could be reasonably proven, since otherwise it’s one man’s word against another, something we don’t usually accept as damning evidence. I think Liverpool FC reacted so strongly to the affair because they felt a miscarriage of justice had occurred. I also felt there was a witch-hunt going on; the perfect chance for the politically-inclined to curry some favour by jumping on the anti-racist bandwagon. Whilst I still believe this, I think it’s hard to defend Suarez.

What I will say is that, ironically, if Suarez completely denied using any racial words at all, he might’ve been acquitted. He admitted using the words but denied there was racist intent. I’m not saying this excuses Suarez, but it does make the incident seem less clear-cut which probably made his supporters feel justified in defending him at first.

The handshake

On Saturday 11th February, Liverpool faced Man Utd at their ground in a League game. By an astonishing coincidence, Sky decided to switch their pre-kickoff advert run to much earlier, before the players even lined up in the tunnel (usually the players walk onto the pinch and Sky cut to commercial for several minutes, then return for the kick-off proper), which meant that the line-up and handshake could be televised live. There are some who suggest that Evra half-heartedly offered his hand or even slightly pulled it away as Suarez approached. This may be true or it might be clutching at straws. Personally, I don’t buy it: his hand is out. In contrast, Suarez made no attempt at all to shake hands with Evra and instead blanked him, continuing down the line. Evra reacted angrily, grabbing Suarez’s arm. Suarez pulled his arm free and continued on.

Now there are two ways to take this: if Suarez is innocent and was convicted on the word of another man and the reasonable certainty of a judiciary panel, his reputation has been tarnished forever. As long as he lives, wherever he plays, he will have the term “racist” hanging over him. If this was me, and I was innocent, I’d have blanked Evra too. Contrastingly, if Suarez was guilty and I was Evra, I would not shake his hand at all! I cannot understand why Evra offered his hand. If he is the victim, the innocent one, then the racist filth of another person isn’t something you should forgive and forget. Suarez should’ve been the one to offer his hand (if guilty) and Evra would’ve been fully justified in ignoring it, given that, remember: Suarez denied the charge of using racist insults, so if he’s guilty it makes him a liar on top of a racist. At the time of the handshake I was actually biased toward Suarez given how the situation played out. What I mean is, if I was one of the parties concerned, it would’ve made more sense for Suarez to not be guilty and snub Evra, than for the innocent Evra to offer his hand and then get so riled up when it was refused.

What I disliked about Evra’s reaction (and I will assume he is in the right), is that if he wanted to be the “bigger man” and offer his hand, why did he then completely lose his temper? Wouldn’t a “bigger man” have given a wry smile or shrug, and simply think “to hell with him!” with all the cameras watching? That would’ve made a bigger impression, in my opinion. His reaction, coupled with his red-mist charge into Suarez which ended up only taking out teammate Ferdinand, and his excessive post-match victory dance appeared to me, not as a man celebrating a football result nor a man celebrating a judicial verdict, but a man whose pride had been wounded and wanted to get even. Again, I could be wrong (and given the evidence I probably am), but that’s how it could look. Having said that, after months of repressed emotion and winning an important game against a fierce rival where a racist abuser tried to embarrass me in public, I might be tempted into a bit of self-righteous gloating myself, understandably.

My personal opinion is that the evidence against Suarez was satisfactory for the verdict. I personally don’t believe Evra should have offered his hand, but it was his choice and he did it. But I also think that, even for an innocent man, his reaction at the end of the game, waving his arms in circles and skipping along the touchline to his fans, inciting their anti-Liverpool venom all the more, and trying to provoke or belittle Suarez, was irresponsible. He is supposed to be a Manchester United captain. Manchester United has been the biggest team in the world for decades, and is arguably only eclipsed in its success and attractive football by Barcelona and Real Madrid – and is this the guy Man Utd fans want as their leader, their talisman, their representative on the pitch? I’m not equating his antics with Suarez’s racism and if he wasn’t the captain I’d be inclined to ignore it, but surely it was out of order and grossly unprofessional?

Speaking of which, if Suarez led his colleagues and superiors to believe he would shake Evra’s hand (which it seems he did) and then refused to – he put them in an unfair and uncomfortable situation and deserves to be punished. It was sly and dishonourable behaviour and he let himself and everyone connected to Liverpool down. He has subsequently apologised for this.

But what I have to point out is the hypocrisy of Sky: despite the presenter, pundits and commentators insisting that “we” talk about football, they did a damn fine job of talking about everything but the football. As I previously said, Sky switched their pre-match commercials to make sure they covered the handshake. They extended the post-match section of their coverage, no doubt anticipating having much to discuss. The post-match interviews glossed over the actual football so we could get to the really juicy stuff.

Reaction

Of course, everyone had an opinion on the incident. Some Liverpool fans fiercely supported Suarez to the death, simply because he is a Liverpool player. Some Manchester United fans had similar support for Evra. Extreme opinions were voiced on both sides, with many clambering to assert what Suarez should or shouldn’t have done and how he should be punished further. (Personally I think that the pre-match handshake in all football games is a farce; another example of bureaucracies having too much time on their hands to invent silly little rituals instead of being an administrative body and nothing else.)

I will always give my honest opinion and be as objective as possible: for a start, I totally reject the suggestion that footballers are responsible for the behaviour of fans, with one exception: encouraging a frenzy by running to the crowd. A hero scoring a goal and running to fans causes them to naturally rush to meet him, which is dangerous. Players are rightly booked for this. This has absolutely nothing to do with referees being “spoil sports” or politically correct or some health and safety nonsense. We have seen the injury and death that can be caused at football matches from stampedes, and they can be caused by anything from gross police negligence to something as innocent as goal scoring. That aside, if you’re a Liverpool fan who sees Evra’s post-match reaction and it enrages you so much that you find the nearest Man Utd fan and hurl a brick at him, the responsibility for that action is as follows: Evra: 0%, You: 100%. Similarly, if you’re a Man Utd fan who is incensed by Suarez’s refusal to shake Evra’s hand, you cannot use this as an excuse for beating up some Liverpool fans. Crimes are not morally transferable, and only in rare and mitigating circumstances are the motives for crimes balanced against the action. Sir Alex Ferguson said that Suarez was a disgrace and “could have caused a riot today.” Well I’m sorry, Alex, you might be right about the “disgrace” part but since when was one man morally accountable for the decisions of another? No, this piece of nonsense needs to go from football and society: you cannot use other people as excuses for your idiotic violence. We don’t accept “he made me hit him!” in the school-ground or from our children, so why is it ok for grown adults in the society to try the same?

Sir Alex Ferguson said that Suarez shouldn’t be allowed to play for Liverpool again, presumably meaning that LFC should eject him. Now, whilst I agree that a club should be picky about the character of player who wears their shirt, the simple fact is: most clubs don’t give a damn who or what a footballer is, only that he makes them successful, so it’s a little odd to start getting morally uppity now, even in the face of racism. It also exposes you to counter-assertions of hypocrisy. Let’s remember that two Manchester United captains in the last 20 years have: performed flying kicks into the necks of opposing spectators and deliberately set out to cause harm to opposing players. Roy Keane’s assault on Alfe-Inge Haaland was as premeditated and vicious an attack as you could see on a football pitch. Off the pitch, this would be treated as grievous bodily harm, carrying a fine and probable jail term. In a civilised society, we allow offensive speech and ban violence, because the former doesn’t violate anyone’s Rights and the latter does. In football, it seems to work the other way around: initiating violence against someone carries a 5 match ban; a racist slur incurs 8. Imagine if the law in everyday life worked this way! Some might say that violence is violence and happens in life but racism is a social evil that should be eliminated. Well this is my opinion: both are evil but violence is socially worse. Why? Evil opinions can (and should) be legally permitted because they can be defeated by reason and non-violent means. Violence can never be legally permitted because it destroys reason, can only be stopped by more physical force, and invariably leads to more violence. I’ll go into this in more detail later, but if you disagree, think about this: would you rather someone approach you on the street and insult you, or break your legs?

On the subject of players representing a club, in football “we” seem to allow: violence, cheating, name-calling, unsporting behaviour and sociopaths, but a racist slur should be grounds for immediate dismissal? And I am not claiming that they are one and the same or morally equal, but let’s be clear what we’re talking about here: there are a great number of disgraceful things that football clubs happily turn a blind eye to. And if you think that a racist insult is necessarily worse than trying to hurt another human being, you should be prepared to fully justify that position, if you can.

The Government and Free Speech

The PFA Executive Gordon Taylor said “the situation is running away with us and this isn’t healthy for football, particularly with the government looking into the governance of football”, which probably explains why so many people in positions of power are worried about the situation. What no one is asking is why the government is poking its nose into the administration of a sport!  Don’t our politicians have anything better to do? I would think economic crisis and national security should be enough to be getting on with, but if they’re that bored I encourage them to please consider getting a proper job. If I were Taylor I’d politely tell the government to mind its own damn business, but that  might affect all the State parties and gatherings that FA executives and footballers get invited to huh?

The racism in football issue is another excuse for the government to extend its power over free speech. There are some well-intentioned individuals whose natural reaction to racism is to call for more laws and government action. You are not helping anyone. Before anyone objects, can we all just agree at the outset that racism is evil and should be socially unacceptable? Now that that’s over with, let’s get back to the very basics:

Why is racism a bad thing?

So many opinions float around in a vacuum, taken for granted or as self-evident truths. But it is not self-evident that racism is evil. It is not self-evident that rape is evil. Why? Because “racism is bad” is not a moral primary. “Rape is bad” is not a moral primary. Rather, racism and rape are violations of the most basic pro-human virtue: rationality. For example: “physical force” is not itself bad, as a primary. If it were, it would be wrong to lock criminals up or punish them no matter what they did. Physical force is acceptable, as long as it’s not initiated. Therefore, we are justified in locking a criminal up (or killing him), but not an innocent man. Therefore, rape isn’t evil simply because it’s physical force, but because it is necessarily the initiation of force against an innocent; it’s a violation. It is evil because it is anti-human.

Racism is evil, not because it violates Rights (it doesn’t) but because it’s anti-human. Racism is probably the most profound and stupid example of irrationality in existence, which says: “just because someone has different skin colour or was born elsewhere, they can be judged as individuals”. It is the judgement of a man’s character based on his geography or bloodline. It is irrational; it is anti-human; it is evil. But what racism is not, in itself, is a violation of anyone’s Rights. Fascists will disagree, but the government’s job is to protect Rights, not to police acceptable speech. This is why racism cannot be a crime.

The principle of freedom of speech is not to preserve or encourage popular or admirable opinions (although that is a natural consequence) but to prevent unpopular opinions from being suppressed, however ridiculous or inhuman they may be. The idea of free speech allowing everything, except the stuff we really really don’t like, is a contradiction in terms! Either everything is legally permissible to say, or none of it is. And before I get accused of creating a false dilemma: I’m not; there is no objective standard by which to determine what speech should and shouldn’t be acceptable, since any opinion in the world is potentially offensive to someone somewhere. All that truly exists is what some politician decides based on the votes he’s trying to win, or the “popular opinion” of the time, a fallacy which says that something is true simply because enough people think it is. Remember that in the past what we would consider racist was the general opinion, even from the intellectuals at the time. Even as recently as a few decades ago, the popular opinion of homosexuals and sexual equality was what we’d now call archaic.

The beauty of the “freedom of speech” principle is that it protects us all from whatever mob, whatever dictator, whatever bureaucrat, whatever despot, whatever faction, decides our opinion is a threat to them and wants to stamp it out. (It also prevents the government giving special favours to those opinions it wants to encourage.) The more ridiculous (or evil) an opinion, the more important it is to not censor it. Why? First, because trying to ban an opinion is impossible anyway. Opinions are individual matters which arise from a person’s choices and premises (conscious and unconscious). Second, because trying to blacklist an opinion (or anything) creates a black market; you drive it underground where it meets the worst of humanity. Third, you discourage honest debate. For example, if someone is truly racist and honestly believes that nationality or race plays a part in the judgement of another individual (these people are far more common than you realise), it is all the better to let them speak and offer their arguments so that they can be defeated. If someone says “it’s obviously true that black people are mentally inferior to whites”, do not silence him! Do not give him the “respect” that many a brave voice in history was met with: censorship. Do not plant the seed in another’s mind that “maybe he has a point?!” Rather, let him speak and explain himself, and then show why he is totally and utterly wrong. Blast the argument in public for all to see for all time. But do not simply ban it, or treat him like a criminal for holding an opinion (even an evil one).

(As an aside, I should mention that the only exceptions to free speech in any form are libel and slander, which are rightly illegal.)

We can already see around the world our governments taking measures to control speech and the mediums of speech, the best example of which being the internet. It is not that our governments are necessarily fascist and wicked (though some politicians are), but because they simply assume that moral evils are the remit of the government to police. And when the average citizen agrees and even calls for it, how can we expect anything else?

The government has no job banning and criminalising any speech. It is a slippery slope we are already going down, where the government penalising particularly motivated-actions over others necessarily leads to the home of motives: thoughts. And if the government bans one, it will sooner or later try to control the other.

Hate crime and hypocrisy

Today in England, a “hate crime” is treated more seriously than a “normal crime”. Presumably, if you violate someone else’s Rights you are super-duper guilty if you did it for racist reasons. Interestingly enough, what this means is that if you’re the same colour as your attacker he is less accountable for his violence than if you or he were a different colour. In other words, people of a different race are more or less guilty than others, all other things being the same. What’s that word for pre-judgment based on race again?

But the elephant in the room that no one is talking about, and which is uncomfortable to discuss for obvious reasons is: why is a cruel and irrational insult against a person acceptable for some reasons and not others? Some footballers have been treated to disgraceful abuse at football grounds, not because of their colour or character or behaviour, but their sexuality. Why is this any different to racism? Aren’t both attacks on an individual based on un-chosen and arbitrary traits? Aren’t both anti-human? Continuing this theme, why is it less frequently condemned when insults are for being: fat, thin, short, tall, attractive, ugly, butch, effeminate etc – most of the time attributes also outside anyone’s control? Of course most decent people would reply “well they aren’t acceptable either” – but the truth is we do view them differently and no matter how hurtful an insult is we are generally told “brush it off, ignore it”, unless it’s racist.

I haven’t established the difference clearly in my head, but if you seriously discriminate against another, or abuse them, what does the particular subject of abuse matter? I welcome an honest answer.

I have many foreign friends, and it’s not uncommon to hear “you Swedish bastard!”; “you Czech retard!”; “you Welsh sheep-shagger”; “you stoned Dutch idiot!”, between us. If any of these insults, albeit in jest, included a reference to colour they would probably be considered racist. But what is the difference? If a genuine light-hearted joke can include reference to someone’s race – then what difference does it make what the race is? I am not saying there isn’t a difference, but if there is I’m having a hard time seeing it. Again, I welcome an honest answer.

Of course historically race has been far more divisive with human beings than gender and other physical attributes – no doubt why it is such a sensitive and inflammatory topic. I can certainly appreciate the emotive nature of colour-related racism. But we’d all agree that racism isn’t primarily a “colour issue”, it’s an issue between any two peoples of different nationality, culture, location or language. So again: if racism isn’t necessarily a colour issue why do “we” assume it is by allowing other kinds of race-related banter, except where colour is concerned?

You see, there is a danger of going too far to the other extreme. In fact, the debate is not: ‘racism is ok’ or ‘racism should be banned’, the debate is: ‘free speech of any kind should not be banned’ versus ‘some speech should be criminalised and some shouldn’t’. The danger is in fact seeing the world in terms of skin colours which is just what racism is. Like any movement to counter discrimination, it can become paranoid and see villains in every decision, enemies around every corner.

Racists see the world as a conglomeration of accents, nationalities, histories and colours – which of course it is, but that is all they see. They think of you, not as you the individual but you the white, the black, the Asian, the American etc; incidents outside your choice are relevant to their judgment of you. The politically-correct multiculturalists are so desperate to not appear like the racists, they pretend that there are absolutely no differences at all between people and insist on a “colour blind” world. Worse, they favour positive-discrimination which is just another form of racism.

But people are different! Not being a bigot isn’t ignoring someone else’s differences, it’s accepting that we human beings are a varied bunch – and not giving a damn about it: another person’s race, or colour, like their accent or birthplace, sexuality or gender, shouldn’t be something we tiptoe around but simply irrelevant in our judgement of them. Gay, straight, fat, thin, black, white, yellow, tall, short, intelligent or dumb – if you’re a monster you should be damned and if you’re virtuous you should be praised. Everything else, everything you didn’t choose, is irrelevant.

Derren Brown and Hypnosis

I was always a big fan of Derren Brown. As far as his work goes, I think he’s one of the best illusionists of all time. His stage entertainment is best described as “illusion” because almost everything he does is false. Even “effects” (to use the correct phrase in magical circles)  which he hints at being due to one thing are in truth another. Years ago, I was taken in by his ability to ostensibly pick up clues in mouth twitching or facial movements to deduce what word someone was thinking of. I’m not saying he isn’t doing this in some cases, for example – asking people a series of questions and picking out the single lie from the truthful answers has a readily-observable explanation (which he provides) and makes perfect sense. It’s not fool-proof, but it’s a nice ability that anyone could do with a bit of practice in the right setting. But most of the time, if Derren Brown is giving you an answer, or even hinting at the answer, he is almost always deceiving you.

I got into a discussion with a friend recently about DB’s latest TV show. In this episode, which admittedly I didn’t watch, he hypnotised a man into believing a bath of freezing water was mild, even having him lie in it for 8 minutes without discomfort! This supposedly demonstrated the power of hypnosis, or suggestion.

As much as I admire DB’s skill and most of the effects he achieves, in recent years my interest in him has cooled. There are two main reasons for this. One is his over-(mis)use and over-misdirection of supposedly scientific means and his own mental powers (which lessens the impact of his effects), and the other is his use of hypnosis.

Contrary to popular misconceptions and what hypnotists would have us believe, hypnosis is merely socially-learned unconscious behaviour. It is a form of reciprocal role-playing based on how the hypnotised person believes they should act, and how the hypnotist believes he should act. Both expect certain results and play their parts to achieve them. Hypnosis is very much like “speaking in tongues”; of course, the holy spirit isn’t really possessing people and causing them to utter nonsensical sounds, rather, these people are so hyped up in religious fervour they believe they are overcome with holy spirit and unconsciously act how they believe they should. They are playing a role, albeit unknowingly. This is all hypnosis is. Or in the words of Irving Kirsch, it is a “nondeceptive placebo”. In other words, hypnotised people believe they are “hypnotised” and act how they have come to understand a “hypnotised” person behaves. This behaviour can be guided or moulded by the hypnotist in more specific ways.

So, when you see DB take a young lady up on stage, ask her to look ahead, then up, then at him, after which he clicks his fingers and tells her to sleep – and she drops her head and closes her eyes – you are not observing magic or any abnormal power at work. He is doing nothing that you couldn’t do. (Consider that those who don’t believe in hypnosis can’t be hypnotised.) There is nothing going on here except the power of suggestion.

Now, the power of suggestion is very real, and is probably a testament to what the human mind can achieve when so conditioned. If anything, we should really take inspiration from it as a tool in our lives, (for example by having a positive outlook and an expectancy that we can and will achieve our goals). Hypnosis is simply an elaborate game to dress up suggestion and make it appear that something deeper is going on. Hypnosis adds a sense of wonder to the proceedings, if done for entertainment, credibility, if done professionally, otherworldliness, if done for occult or supernatural reasons.

There is no such thing as a hypnotic trance, and “hypnotised” people will not perform actions that are far removed from what their regular sensibilities will allow. For example, someone under hypnosis will not shoot themselves or jump off a cliff. The “power” of hypnosis will only go so far, and is curiously similar to what the subject is prepared to do anyway for attention, keeping the hypnotist happy, entertaining the audience, or the pressure to play along. In other words, if you really don’t want to get undressed on stage, you won’t – no matter how hypnotised you are or think you are.

But Derren Brown knows all this. He knows that hypnosis is largely convoluted, but is more than happy to perpetuate the myth because he needs people to believe it works. Even if they don’t believe it, he needs them to play along.

There is more going on with a good DB effect than the effect itself. He is perhaps most famous for being the guy who achieves seemingly supernatural effects by natural means, and is firmly opposed to the harm done by supernaturalists. He can cold-read better than most of the best “psychics” out there, levitate tables and chairs, produce coins with messages from beyond the grave, and have you subconsciously intuit dead from alive merely by looking at photographs. We know he isn’t doing any of this, but the effect is powerful, and those rational in the audience accept that it’s all done naturally. It  amazes us and baffles us, perhaps sends a shiver down our spine, and discredits the fraud and evil of the mystics all in one go. We don’t need to know how he does it, all we need to know is that it’s a trick.

But when it comes to hypnosis, this is one quasi-scientific area he’s happy to leave alone. You can’t say that we, the ones in the know, us clever people in the audience, aren’t supposed to be fooled by it, because we are supposed to be. For me it’s a bit like his “prediction” of the National Lottery numbers. It seemed impossible, and the effect was amazing. But then he went and ruined it by explaining how he did it. Not because he really explained it, but because he tried to feed us the most bullshit explanation ever, which most sane people wouldn’t buy, and which he himself would never believe! It was exactly the kind of mystical anti-scientific crap he works hard to discredit! He’d have been better off not explaining anything, or actually showing us how he really did the trick. To be fair, he admitted himself he didn’t like this stunt and wished he’d have done it differently.

But the point is, don’t take anything DB does as a performer at face value. Not even the stuff you think he’s explaining. As I mentioned earlier, a favourite trick of his is to intuit a secret word in the mind of a guest by their mannerisms or face movements. Of course, no human being in the world can do this – and I challenge anyone to guess a word I am thinking of. He drops hints that he’s picking up on subconscious clues and invites us to do the same to the subject. In reality, he is doing nothing of the sort.

Similarly, an effect he performed for his original TV show had a man separate photographs into two piles based on whether he got a superficial positive or negative vibe just by looking at the pictures. At the end, it was revealed that the “positive” pile were people who were alive, and the “negative” people happened to be of deceased. (I won’t reveal how it’s done, but this trick is very famous in its original form). But, it was a better effect by not being accompanied by some pseudo-rational explanation, which would’ve been a discredit to reason and somewhat condescending to the audience.

In another effect, and a more light-hearted one, he identifies the “liars” from a row of people just by listening to their answers without even looking at them. It’s a great trick, and gets the audience laughing, as the dirty liar gets exposed from the most innocuous answers. His brilliant showman skills allude to being a master of reading people, when the secret behind this effect is incredibly mundane. It took me 10 seconds to figure out how he did this: there is more deception on deception taking place here, and a good example of taking everything Derren says with a pinch of salt. (By the way, I’ve been to all DB’s stage shows each year. Ironically, and unfortunately, the most powerful and beautiful effect he performed last year was also the easiest to explain. I won’t say which one it was. During the intermission, my friends and I figured it out – and I was disappointed, not because of how he did it, but because afterwards the emotion of the effect evaporated. I would rather not figure it out, or more precisely, not be able to. Once the mystery is revealed, the emotional resonance is lost. What remains, and is by no means trivial, is an appreciation for the technical skill of the illusionist. I should also mention that whilst the emotion of the effect was thereafter lost, the meaning and the accompanying message was still beautiful and true.)

Of course, it doesn’t matter that he’s lying – because he’s an illusionist. He’s supposed to deceive us spectacularly, and the delivery and style is unique and engaging. But do some of his alleged “powers” actually give a false notion of science and the human mind? My problem is not with any of his effects, but is it better to maintain total mystery than to hint at a lie? How much credibility should be given to the idea that words and truths can be plucked from someone’s head before it goes from “it’s obviously only a trick” to “it takes a special skill to do that” to “I can do that with people myself”? How healthy is it to lend credence to hypnosis, just for an effect, if people run off to buy books on it, or spend hundreds on classes for it, visit a hypno”therapist”, or worse, attempt past-life regression?

In one effect (I mentioned the girl on stage who was hypnotised after a click of the fingers), DB gets the subject to use “unconscious writing” to apparently divine a word or number she couldn’t otherwise have known. You can say that it’s not supernatural, which it isn’t. You can say that DB despises mediums and abhors the supernatural as an explanation of anything, which he does. But the effect is: ‘under hypnosis, this person achieved a feat they couldn’t have otherwise’. If that isn’t the effect, why hypnotise them? One answer is: he is recreating a supposedly paranormal effect using natural means, thereby discrediting the former. But this effect wasn’t even about the power of suggestion (like the bath tub one was). Hypnosis is here just a means to an end, and did it present a false image of hypnosis? Did it give hypnosis a rational scientific credibility? It surely misrepresents the power of suggestion and the capriciousness of the human mind. Now, one could object that what it really does (with stunts like The Heist, where people were “brainwashed” to perform an armed robbery), is show how gullible some people can be, in which case DB is providing a very important object lesson for us all. Though I’m not sure how positive or life-affirming it is to perpetuate the idea that we can all be controlled to varying degrees to act completely out of character, just with the right “programming”. This isn’t a healthy self-image, nor do I believe a correct one. It is a trick staged with purported rational and scientific credibility. Is DB doing reason and science good or harm here? And if he is painting a false picture of the world, how is this any different to some of the people he denounces? Again, you could say that he is genuinely able to achieve these results using manipulation alone (which is the implication) – but when so much of his patter is nonsense, how can we be expected to know the difference?

Perhaps my gripe, and it’s really minor I must stress, is personal instead of professional: perhaps I feel slightly let down because I think in some ways I’m being patronised. If you know for example that hypnosis is rubbish and have a good idea how DB performs his effects, a lot of the delivery and window dressing loses its impact. I’d rather be told nothing and be totally stumped on a mystery, than be offered some half-truth. DB invites us to “meet him half way”, between what he apparently achieves and what is really happening. That’s all well and good, but he isn’t really meeting us half way is he? Even his half is a deception, yet another misdirection on a misdirection, leaving us in the position of not being able to take anything he says with honesty. And when you do that, you start to scrutinise his effects more for the real answer, which in my experience dilutes the power of the illusion. A far simpler and more famous trick, like sawing a woman in half, is far more impressive to me than programming people to commit a crime.

Similarly, when one has achieved so many great things in a career, it’s natural to keep pushing the boundaries and going for bigger and more extravagant. I wonder if DB has reached the limit of what his amazing skills can achieve, without redressing an old trick in new garb. In my opinion, magic is best when it’s personal and confined, and the emphasis is on the emotional impact of the effect, not on the sheer size of the effect. That’s why the illusionist Dynamo is much better when he’s materialising a phone into a sealed bottle than walking on water across the Thames. The former is personal: my phone teleported inside a jar – impossible! Incredible! Right before my eyes! A man walking on water? Meh. There’s glass under the surface; the trick is so incredibly false and surreal it’s hollow. Predicting the lottery results? Not interested, but making this chair float? That’s magic! Hypnotising someone to forget how to be a pianist? Social role-playing. Winning a race with the losing ticket? Jaw-dropping!

The best effects are usually the simplest. But if DB is going to be a champion of rationality and oppose the mystical, like the Randis and Dawkins of this world, then perhaps it’s worth looking at what image he himself generates of it. DB is at his best when he’s performing the incredible and being honest about it. One example is using a voodoo doll on a New Age believer only to present a twist at the end. The New Age movement (and the subject) come off looking silly and undermined, whilst the power of belief and suggestion is demonstrated, and there’s a lovely little sleight of hand to go with it. But we know what we need to know about the effect. A better example is his use of cold-reading to recreate paranormal effects. We know that he can’t commune with the dead, and we could never hope to match his skill and delivery, but we know how it’s done; we understand the trick and skill involved, and we’re wiser as a result. We aren’t being fed some crap about lip movement or crowd wisdom.

Nor are we led to believe that a psychological response is anything other than expectancy-based suggestion. The power of suggestion is real, but hypnosis is elaborate garb which detracts from a very real, fascinating and potentially useful ability. The truth might be better served by not giving hypnosis more power than it really has. And if hypnosis is worthy of anything, surely it must be separated from those who misuse it, even unknowingly, like hypnotherapists and occultists? Just like cold-reading should be separated from communing with the dead, so should genuine suggestion be from the act/game/con that accompanies the field of hypnosis. If hypnosis has reasonable and practical applications, like any placebo effect, all the more reason to be clear about what it is, and isn’t. There’s a reason medicines are medicines and placebos aren’t. One could retort that by being totally straight about hypnosis, any power it has is destroyed. But isn’t that the point? If some get comfort from hypnotic treatment, despite it being superficial, and despite most practitioners being well-meaning people – how is this different than the comfort one might get from a visit to a well-meaning medium who isn’t aware they are being fraudulent?

Perhaps I’m just saying that Derren Brown, one of the great performers and showmen of all time, is at his best when he’s deceiving us honestly.

The New Atheists have just changed God’s name

Tim Sandefur over at his blog has posted a total demolition of a Sam Harris blog post entitled “How rich is too rich?” It’s called “Sam Harris, anti-reason“, and here’s the link.

Sandefur brilliantly illustrates how Harris, like Hitchens, Dawkins, and other Neo-Atheists, who are nearly always Left-wing Liberals, have simply taken all the unspoken and mystical assumptions of religion, but replaced service to “God” with service to “others”; the “others” being, well, anyone but ourselves. Service to society, the public good, those “in need”, those without what we have. They have taken the self-sacrificial preachings of Christ and simply blotted out the nasty “god” parts. They have regurgitated the mysticism and ephemeral bilge of religion, all in the name of rationality, atheism, science, and all that good “free-thinking” stuff.

Even more worrying is the total economic ignorance Harris shows, so we shouldn’t wonder that his followers across the blogosphere, all the internet atheists, demonstrate this level of ineptitude and misunderstanding of economics. And not just economics, politics. And not just politics, but ethics.

As Sandefur himself points out, Harris and the Neo Atheists are superbly adept at pointing out all the logical fallacies and loopholes in the arguments of the religious, yet Harris can’t even define his own simple terms. He contradicts himself. His premises are unspoken, unjustified, or simply wrong.

It’s very rarely I criticise religion on my blog anymore. In fact, I haven’t written anything anti-religious in years. Why? Because I really don’t see the religious (with the exception of Islam and the fundamentalist Right-Wing American Christians) as the primary threat to my well-being. It’s the socialists, the collectivists, the Left, which the Neo-Atheist “rational” crowd flock to, which is a far greater problem. In fact, it’s probably more accurate to say I don’t see the religious as more or less of a threat than the New Age Atheists, it’s that I lump them all together; I see them as just different types of the same problem.

Whatever your political persuasion, you should really read the article.

UK riots – my thoughts on who, what and why

As riots continued for a third night running in major cities across the UK, many have had their say on the animalistic slime causing massive devastation to property and lives. What should we do about it? What is an appropriate response and what is too far? Why do yobs do this sort of thing? I’ll give my thoughts.

First of all, it’s not really clear what these barely-human criminals are rioting about. There is no doubt in my mind that most of them are simply along for the ride, and enjoy the thrill and excitement of being in the mob, mindlessly ruining without consideration. Even if there was a legitimate purpose to riot, surely the cause is negated by the gross violation of the rights of innocent citizens whose lives and property are being wrecked? What cause could possibly be worth fighting for that is somehow not connected, or superior to, the legitimate rights of others?

So should the government call in the army? No. There is a reason why the army is not and should not be used to keep the law. The army defends the country from enemies of the state; the police protect the citizens and enforce the law. When the army is used against its own citizens, the enemies of the state become its own people. Government power should necessarily be heavily limited in this regard and we cannot throw away that principle when it seems expedient. So should police use lethal force against the rioters? Again, I would say no, not unless it is absolutely necessary. Whilst it is true that these rioters are degenerate insects who deserve no mercy, the law and the police derive their power from their citizens and cannot begin arbitrarily executing them when they get out of hand.

However, I should stress that the rioters have freely abandoned the rule of law and chosen to violate the Rights of their fellow citizens. The cause does not matter, if there even is one. Riot police should be deployed in full force and use water cannons, tasers, tear gas and rubber bullets. The rioters should be beaten into submission, even if it means hospitalising them. The message must be loud and clear: the government will protect the rights of individuals from any threat, foreign or domestic, and those who contravene this rule should be put down, hard. There should be no compromise with vicious thugs. Force should be met with force. Not for the purpose of hurting them, or teaching them a lesson, or quashing citizens under the boot of the government – no, for the purpose of protecting individual Rights.

One thing that also needs pointing out is the makeup of the mob: the majority are youths. The obvious question once again: where are the parents? Once again we are witnessing the result of mediocre and disinterested parenting, of a society where family and integrity is meaningless, where the mothering and fathering skills of adults have atrophied due to a government that insists on doing our thinking for us. How can you expect youths to respect the rights of others, when everywhere you look, the concept of Rights of individuals is watered down or ignored? How can you ask parents to do their jobs and regulate their children, when across the world we see parents asking the government to create yet another rule, regulation or law to restrict content on this, age limits on that, certificates on this, bans on that, censorship on this, criminalisation on that. Perhaps, just perhaps, if the government stayed out of our private affairs and parents had to actually do their job, they would raise their children in a more responsible and dignified manner? Which brings me to my next point: the parents of any youth found convicted in these riots should be forced to make reparations to the owners of damaged property. Your kids, your problem. They smashed, stoned, defaced and burned it? You will pay for it.

I’m not excusing the rioters at all, but I am hardly surprised by their actions. Our culture is warped and sick. In almost every article I write I talk about philosophy, and how it’s a vital part of everyday life, whether people realise it or not. But look at the “intellectuals” of today; look at the philosophy that pervades the world: we are told that reality isn’t real, that there are no moral truths, that there are no real whites and blacks, that morality is subjective and uncertain, that our senses are weak or useless, that the good is whatever the majority commands, that the purpose of life is to sacrifice it, that property is greed, that Rights are “selfish”, that intelligence is sad, that power is all that matters, that dedication and determination are a waste of time, that fame for fame’s sake and beauty for beauty’s sake and money for money’s sake is the lifestyle to pursue, that scientists and businessmen are fools and whores, but celebrities and sportsmen should be objects of idolatry and role-models to follow. This might not be the culture the intellectuals and the philosophers and the bureaucrats wanted, but it’s the one they deserved. This is the inevitable result of an evil and flawed worldview from Christianity to Socialism, from Islam to Communism, from Fascism to Humanism, from Libertarianism to Anarchism, from Hume to Kant, Christ to Mohammed, Nietzsche to Plato: the rejection of moral truths in this world; the denial of morality as useful to the individual in his everyday life. In essence it is this: the rejection of reason.

To those of who you say there is no such thing as morality, that truth is ambiguous, that reality isn’t real, that good and bad are just matters of opinion, that man is just an animal in shoes, that we carry original sin or instead are merely slightly-evolved apes, I say: this is the world you wanted. Well you have it. You wanted a world where reason didn’t matter, where good and bad were just opinions, where truth was both sides of the coin – well this is what happens in such a world. People blow each other up, they fly planes into buildings, they commit holy wars, they rob and pillage in the name of “welfare”, they set fire to buildings, destroy livelihoods, and they riot for the sheer thrill of rioting. Because they don’t know any better, because you told them there was no better, and if there was, there was no way to know it, and so it didn’t matter what they did, because nothing was right or wrong anyway and no one alive could ever know it.

To those who believe that truth and morality are subjective, I say I hope you’re happy with the results of your philosophy. These riots across the UK are just one symptom, but they aren’t the disease itself.

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